‘Any country with a nuclear plant is a bomb factory’
Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1938, Dr Caldicott received her medical degree from the University of Adelaide Medical School in 1961. She founded the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital in 1975 and subsequently was an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and on the staff of the Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Boston, Mass., until 1980 when she resigned to work full time on the prevention of nuclear war. In 1971, Dr Caldicott played a major role in Australia’s opposition to French atmospheric nuclear testing in the Pacific; in 1975 she worked with the Australian trade unions to educate their members about the medical dangers of the nuclear fuel cycle, with particular reference to uranium mining. While living in the United States from 1977 to 1986, she co-founded the Physicians for Social Responsibility. She also founded the Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament(WAND) in the US in 1980. Dr Caldicott has received many prizes and awards for her work, including the Lannan Foundation’s 2003 Prize for Cultural Freedom and 21 honorary doctoral degrees, and she was personally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Linus Pauling – himself a Nobel Laureate. The Smithsonian has named Dr Caldicott as one of the most influential women of the 20th Century. She has written for numerous publications and has authored seven books. Dr. Caldicott’s two most recent books are the revised and updated If You Love This Planet (March 2009) and Loving This Planet, The New Press 2012. Dr Caldicott currently divides her time between Australia and the US where she lectures widely. She founded the US-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute (NPRI), which evolved into Beyond Nuclear. Currently, Dr Caldicott is President of The Helen Caldicott Foundation/NuclearFreePlanet.org, an educational outreach project that informs people of the dangers of nuclear power and weapons.
During the hangout, Helen Caldicott, answered a variety of RT readers’ questions on topics, ranging from those of immediate importance, like the Fukushima crisis, to the prospects of humanity living through the nuclear age.
Q: Should we all move to Africa in case TEPCO
fails to remove the spent fuel rods?
Helen Caldicott: Number one: this is an impossibility. There are billions of people in the Northern Hemisphere and what happens is that if there is a huge release of radiation from Fukushima by accident or by the fuel rods burning, or a fission reaction taking place, the radiation will circulate from west to east around the Northern Hemisphere, but as air masses at the equator, the Northern and Southern Hemisphere air masses do not mix, so most of the fallout in the air will occur in the Northern Hemisphere. And it’s a physical impossibility, of course, to move people to the Southern Hemisphere. Some people might do that, but it’s a terrible situation, because there’s nothing medical people can do about decontaminating people, you can’t decontaminate food, you can’t decontaminate the air that people are breathing.
So we’re facing a potential catastrophe in terms of public health. People should know, though, that it takes a long time to get cancer after you’ve inhaled, breathed in or eaten radioactive materials, like, anytime from two to 80 years. But it is a very serious situation.
‘No food testing in Japan, govt lying to you’
Q: I live in Tokyo and worry about health impact.
When it comes to only cesium, soils here contain 100 becquerels
per kilogram of cesium-134 and 137, and about 20 per cent of
foods have a few becquerels per kilogram to 10 becquerels per
kilogram. Please let me know your opinion on health impact and
the reasons you think so.
HC: First of all, parts of Tokyo are extremely radioactive. They’ve taken dirt from the streets, moss from the roofs, and dust from vacuum cleaners inside apartments. And in some cases there are very high measurements of cesium and strontium and other such elements, literally over a hundred elements in the fallout apart from cesium-137 and 134. People in Tokyo, actually, many of them, are at great risk. That’s number one.
Number two, it’s very difficult to know what to eat in Japan
because you can’t taste or smell or see radioactive elements in
your food. And each dose of radiation that you get adds to the
risk of getting cancer. And as you eat more and more radioactive
food, more radioactivity builds up in various organs of your
body. There is little testing of food in Japan, the government is
lying to you, and they are encouraging the farmers in Fukushima
to grow their food, which is really criminal because there’s a
hell of a lot of fallout on the ground, in Fukushima, and the
radiation concentrates back from the soil into rice, green
vegetables, milk, meat, and the like.
They are even promoting the Fukushima food in Korea when I was there, and in Taiwan, but also in Tokyo and other places, also in markets in England, so the situation is very grim. And I think if I lived in Tokyo, I would move south. And I would be very, very careful about what I eat. I would only eat food coming from the south of Japan, and I wouldn’t eat any fish because they are pouring huge amounts of radiation into the Pacific Ocean every day. And you don’t know which fish are radioactive and which are not.
Q: Chernobyl happened in 1986, with very
radioactive rain over Europe. 40 percent of European area is now
covered with radiation.
HC: 40 per cent of the food in Europe is radioactive. I do not buy European food or Japanese food. Luckily, I live in Australia, but if you live in America, you need not to eat Japanese or European food because you don’t know what food is radioactive and what is not. And medically, you mustn’t eat any radiation in food! And what’s more, Europe will remain radioactive for hundreds or thousands of years!
And that’s so, too, with Fukushima. And the report of the national Academy of Sciences in New York about Chernobyl says [that] by now, about over a million people have died, not only of cancer and leukaemia, but from other diseases from the radioactive fallout, in Europe, as well as in Ukraine and Russia. And if you extrapolate that data to Japan, [which is] much more densely populated, we’re going to see a lot of cancers. Already, in two-and-a-half years, they’ve diagnosed, or suspectedly diagnosed, 44 cases of thyroid cancer, and thyroid cancer is extremely rare, one in a million children get thyroid cancer. So this indicates [that] those children and everyone else have received extremely high doses of radioactive iodine and lots of other elements, so that bodes very badly for the future, for the Japanese people.
Q: We have learnt there were soya plants beginning to grow in Chernobyl. Why can’t we do genetic studies on them and adopt them in stable food crops to deal with radioactive exposure in farmlands?
HC: Let me tell you there’s a wonderful scientist called Timothy Mousseau, who is an evolutionary biologist, who is going into exclusion zones, very radioactive zones around Chernobyl and Fukushima, to the detriment of his own health. He is looking at the birds and the insects, and the wildlife, plants in those areas, and [found], first of all, that birds he was looking at have smaller than normal brains because developing brains are very sensitive to the effects of radiation. Many of the male birds are sterile which means that they will die out. They are covered with mutations, they have crooked tails, crooked wings, white patches on them. Many of them have cataracts in their eyes.
And what happens to animals, happens to humans, because we test all our drugs and medicine on animals before we give them to humans, so what we’re seeing in the animals which reproduce very fast and in which we watch generations and generations, is what will happen in humans.
There are 6,000 genetic diseases we now know of, including cystic fibrosis, diabetes, hemochromatosis, dwarfism, I could go on and on. And all of those diseases are going to increase in frequency down the time span because of radioactive pollution. It’s an absolutely wicked, wicked industry, which kills people.
And the other thing you need to know is that any country that has
a nuclear plant has a bomb factory. Nuclear reactors manufacture
250kg, or 500lbs, of plutonium a year. Plutonium has a half-life
of 24,400 years. It lasts for at least a quarter of a million
years. You only need five kilos or 10 pounds to make
an atomic bomb. So fundamentally, if you’ve got 500lbs of
plutonium, you need 10lbs for the bomb, you can make 50 atomic
bombs every year. America and Japan, and South Korea, are selling
nuclear reactors all around the world.
So not only are we selling cancer and leukemia to the future generations, but they’re selling atomic bombs. That causes the proliferation of nuclear weapons and increases the threat of nuclear war.
Q: I feel like I’m dead already, and agree that it is too late for me, but perhaps I can still do something good for my children and hopefully for grandchildren, so count on me, let’s clean the mess.
HC: Excellent! So what I would say to you, whichever country you live in: you close down all your nuclear power plants. America’s got over a hundred operating. They must all be closed down. I don’t care what the laws say: laws are written to protect corporations, not people. And you can’t tell me the power of the people isn’t greater than the power of corporations – if you love your children and your grandchildren, take it upon yourself to shut down your local nuclear power plant.
‘We’re living with impending catastrophe every day’
Q: Do you see faster progress on the construction
of fusion reactors?
HC: No, fusion reactors are a dream for the physicists, they haven’t been able to construct a fusion reactor, I think that will never happen. But as Einstein said, the answers to today’s problems will not be produced by the same technology that caused them. We’ve got to change the way we think. And what Einstein said - the splitting of the atom changed everything, all reality, save man’s mode of thinking. Thus, we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe. He was right so many years ago - why do we keep doing it? Are we really lemmings rushing towards the cliff of the nuclear annihilation and global warming? Do we have the emotional intelligence to change the way we think, and decide to save this beautiful planet of ours and probably the only life in the universe? This is a very deep, and spiritual, and religious question for those who are religious.
Q: We’ve been hearing about the White House meetings with the Japanese and TEPCO keen to help with the clean-up. Is this true? Do you know and have you heard of it?
HC: Yes, I do know that Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has just been to Japan and visited Fukushima for the first time. It’s taken him a long time to get there, and he was terribly shocked. And he said that the Department of Energy would help, but I know that TEPCO is about – in the next few days – to start removing the spent fuel rods from the cooling pool. And two things could happen: a rod could break and release a lot of radiation and the workers will have to evacuate the whole of the Fukushima complex. That’s terribly serious because they are there every day to keep things going. Or two rods could touch each other in this process which has been done before, and there could be a fission reaction and a very large release of radiation. So I don’t know what the plans are, they haven’t enunciated them.
Q: What would you not hesitate to eat along the
Pacific Coast in North America?
HC: I don’t think I’d eat fish along the West Coast of North America. I think the food is pretty safe at the moment. I mean, that’s a guess. You should make sure that your government, state and federal, are testing your food, so you know what’s safe and what’s not. I think at the moment it’s probably relatively safe, but as I said, we’re facing possible catastrophe. It’s going to take them 14 months to remove those spent fuel rods from Reactor 4 cooling pool. We’re living with impending catastrophe every day.
Q: Nuclear is the only option if you want clear skies. Nuclear is big in Europe. If you don’t want nuclear, you must have dirty coal-powered stations, there’s no free choice…
HC: That’s not true! If you download the study called ‘Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free’ from the internet, the study that I commissioned and organized several years ago with a brilliant physicist called Arjun Makhijani, it shows that all energy for Europe and for America, for every country, can be now supplied by renewable energy.
Each day renewable energy gets cheaper and cheaper; cheaper by far than nuclear. We mustn’t burn coal, you’re absolutely right, but for God’s sake, why don’t the countries of the world stop subsidizing nuclear, stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and cover every house with solar panels, solar hot water system, solar thermal systems like they’ve constructed in Spain, windmills? I’ve just been in Germany and Austria, and lots of farmhouses are now covered with solar panels. Germany is moving fast with renewables. [As for] Denmark, 40 percent of its electricity comes from wind.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.